Should marijuana be legalized in California? A look at Proposition 64
California voters, who were the first in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical use two decades ago, will now decide whether to join a parade of states that are allowing adults to use it simply for pleasure.
Their decision on Proposition 64 will have a profound impact on California’s North Coast, the largest producer of marijuana in the United States, with ramifications for the region’s economy, drug use, the environment, government tax revenue and the community of small growers who produce some of the most coveted cannabis in the world.
If approved, one study suggests, it would create a commercial pot industry that could sell $6.5 billion of cannabis by 2020, rivaling the current size of the state’s renowned wine industry.
Although recreational marijuana is already legal in four states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska — adding California to a West Coast wall of acceptance would send political ripples across the nation and intensify pressure on the federal government to relax its laws on pot.
“This is California, this is a game changer,” said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a prominent backer of the ballot measure. “You’re not going to ignore California. At a certain point, the federal government is waking up.”
Polls show the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is supported by 60 percent or more of voters. But the initiative has deeply divided marijuana growers while pitting law enforcement leaders and others who oppose it against health care groups and others that support it.
Advocates contend that prohibition has failed and it is time to regulate it like any other business, delivering a tax windfall estimated at $1 billion a year.
Critics say legalization opens the door to big businesses capable of dominating the regulatory process and leaves children vulnerable to rampant advertising of a harmful substance.
At its most basic level, Proposition 64 would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes and to grow up to six plants at home. Consumption would be prohibited in public places, including bars, restaurants, streets, theaters and entertainment venues.
California’s medical marijuana program, which requires patients to obtain a physician’s recommendation and to purchase cannabis at licensed dispensaries, would remain in place.
The 62-page measure would establish a comprehensive state regulatory framework for the commercial pot industry with 19 license categories covering cultivation, manufacturing, testing, distributing and retailing.
License fees would cover the cost of regulation. Two new taxes — a 15 percent statewide sales tax on marijuana and a separate tax on growers — would go to a host of uses, including grants to community nonprofits, academic evaluation of legalization’s impact, research on the safety of medical marijuana and efforts by the CHP to determine standards for impaired driving.
The provisions for personal adult use of marijuana would be effective the day after the election, while state licenses for dispensaries and other cannabis enterprises likely will not be available until late next year, according to the League of California Cities.
Similar measures will go before voters in four other states — Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine — on Nov. 8. Twenty-five states already allow medical marijuana.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said there is already “a robust coalition” in Congress pushing for reform of marijuana laws.